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Big Brother is still watching.
Even though George Orwell’s 1984, originally published in 1949, has been filmed twice before — once in 1956 and then again in 1984 — nearly 68 years after its publication it is suddenly the hottest literary property in town. There’s a new film project on the fast track at Sony, a stage version heading to Broadway and the 1984 version of the film is being rereleased Tuesday for a one-day engagement. And that’s to say nothing of the book itself, which has received a significant Trump bump. Publisher Signet says 2017 sales of the book, which won’t be in the public domain in the U.S. until 2044, are outpacing last year’s sales over the same period by a whopping 340 percent.
Readers on either side of the so-called Resistance are glomming onto the message of the dystopian classic, as fake news proliferates, allegations of improper surveillance swirl and authoritarian governments crack down on citizens’ rights around the globe.
But the story behind how Gina Rosenblum, a formerly unemployed housewife in Chicago, came to own film and TV rights to the book is worthy of its own screenplay.
Rosenblum’s late husband, Marvin Rosenblum, acquired the rights back in 1980 after flying to London to meet with Orwell’s widow Sonia. He was a transaction lawyer with no movie experience, but was fascinated with the novel and wanted to bring it back to the big screen in time for the titular date.
Sonia Orwell hated the original 1956 movie version and agreed to sell the film and TV rights to the lawyer. (Left penniless after being swindled by an accountant, she died of a brain tumor just days after negotiating with Rosenblum). In an even stranger twist, the CIA had helped fund the 1956 version of the film and called for its ending to be changed in an effort to bolster an anti-Soviet propaganda message, according to British journalist and historian Frances Stonor Saunders.
Over the years, the Rosenblums flexed their legal muscle to protect their investment, suing Viacom over the reality series Big Brother (that suit was eventually settled). They also sent a cease-and-desist letter to Apple (over its iconic Macintosh ad that ran once during the 1984 Super Bowl, but then never re-aired). Marvin Rosenblum died in 2003 of cancer, leaving the rights to his widow, who is now producing the Sony film alongside Scott Rudin, with Paul Greengrass attached to direct.
“I feel incredibly fortunate that this book has found renewed interest and has become a phenomenon again for a new generation of readers,” she tells THR. “It’s as timely as ever.”
Above: An exclusive clip of the new 1984 coda interview with director Michael Radford.
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